Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Are you puzzled?

I have never been good at puzzles!  They require stillness, patience, and other skills that I do not claim as mine. Having said that, I have been in the mood to put puzzles together lately.  I guess that it's just another one of the surprising changes and rearranges that are happening as I'm moving through life.

One of my favorite memories is of a dear Great Aunt.  I met her when I was 5 years old.  She had been widowed in her 30's.  She was pregnant at the time.  Counting her new babe she was left with 6 children to raise alone.  Somehow she managed to raise strong, remarkable human beings.

On my first visit she gave me a beautifully hand pieced quilt for my doll.  I still treasure that intricate little quilt.  I probably will frame it and put it on my wall at some point.

Aunt Leone put together puzzles.  She had puzzled lots and lots of puzzles.  After she finished, she could not bear to pull the puzzle apart and put it away to put together again at a later time.  So she would modge podge the puzzle, and frame it, and up on her wall it would go.  At the wise age of 5 I did not understand why she would do that.  I mean, it's fun to do the same puzzle over and over, right?

Now I understand.  At this age...when the past seems more comfortable than the present or future, when time becomes more precious, I too have a hard time putting a puzzle together only to take it apart when I'm finished.

Life has many puzzles for us to solve.  There is the puzzle, "Do I get a college education?  What college would I attend?  What major do I wish to pursue?  Will I date?  What type of person do I wish to marry?  Where would we choose to live?  Will I have children...on and on endless decisions puzzle our minds as we move through life.

When my husband attended Law School, and I worked as Executive Secretary of Finance, at the liberal arts college attached to my husbands law school, and we had two beautiful small daughters, I frequently would comment how happy I would be when he finished his schooling.  I wanted to quit my job and just focus on him, raising our girls, and THEN I would be happy.

My sweetie stated one day, "If you wait to be happy at some mysterious point in the future, you're going to miss the happiness that you could have, RIGHT NOW!"  He was right.  Even in the hectic time of him getting his J.D degree, and me working fulltime, and raising our beautiful kiddos, there was much happiness to be had.

We made wonderful friends that I stay connected with all these years later.  Nyle grew intellectually.  I grew in job skills.  Our girls grew as they watched their parents achieve worthwhile goals.  It WAS a time of great happiness.

Sometimes however, it was easy to forget to choose that happiness.  Did you notice the key word in that statement...CHOOSE?  Most of the time in life happiness is a conscious choice that we can make.  We CAN be happy IN SPITE of any struggles that we face.

Our family motto is "Happy not Crappy."  That refers to this idea.  We can choose to be happy even in negative life situations.  Hard is not necessarily BAD.  Often in hard times there are kernels of joy to be discovered.

Life can be easily compared to a giant puzzle.  Each step of the way is like putting pieces together in that puzzle.  I believe that when we have finished this life, when we've done the best that we could do, we'll be thrilled to look at the overall picture of the puzzle.  Even the hard times, the struggles will lend texture and shading to that marvelous picture. 

Some of the lessons that I have been reminded of as I have been puzzling are:

1.  If a piece doesn't fit one way, try it the other three.  I have been pleasantly surprised how many times just looking at the piece from a different perspective will help me find the position where it goes in the puzzle.

2.  If you find yourself frustrated and not finding the pieces you need, quit working on that part for awhile.  Find a simpler part to tackle until you've calmed again and are ready to tackle that trickier part.

3.  When you start putting together the pieces you can't see the whole picture of how it will fit.

4.  Each piece is separate.  A piece of cardstock/cardboard cut out that will fit in some mysterious part of the puzzle.

5.  Each piece is attractive alone, but MORE attractive and stronger when they have been connected.

6.  When you see the entire finished puzzle you can look at it and think, "Oh, that's why that piece fits there, and this other piece fits there.  It all makes sense. 

7.  There is a framework that goes around the edge of the puzzle.  This frame anchors every other piece of the puzzle as you put it together.

8.  There is not a single only way to approach puzzling.  Some folks like to choose the exterior pieces and put them together first.  Some prefer to put them together matching colors and working out towards the exterior.  Some group the pieces by color.  Each way can result in a completed, lovely puzzle.

There are so many opportunities for newness in this life.  Every morning can be new!  Every week, month, and year offers a chance to change and grow.  For some of us, every decade can bring growth.  In the creation of your puzzle be aware that we CAN overcome the past.  We CAN choose to leave behind mistakes, and foolishness.  We can improve and grow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

That First Christmas - After We Married

Nyle and I had been married for four and a half months on that first Christmas.  Somehow I think that I expected that we would spend that very first one with my family.  We had never discussed this idea...again I assumed.  I mean, after all, his family were spread out quite a bit across the country.

Nyle had spent almost three Christmases by himself before we met, fell in love, and married.  Those holidays that he spent alone were very sad days for him.  One Christmas he was recovering from emergency colon surgery.  The next one he was recovering from major knee surgery.  His family were all living away from where he lived.

When I finally voiced my expectation about being with my family just a few days before Christmas he told me that now WE were a family.  He wanted us to start, right away, to begin our own family Christmas Traditions.  I don't know how many actual traditions we started that Christmas.  We did, however, begin our own family.  It was incredibly joyous for both of us when we discovered a few weeks before Christmas that our very first child was preparing to join us.

I bought an ornament, that 30 years later looks a bit grimy, that says "Our First Christmas."  It still brings back the same tingles that I felt just looking at my handsome hubby during that wonderful time.  I'm certain that we must have done some fun Christmasey things.  All that I remember is feeling that I was the most blessed woman alive to marry Nyle Smith!  (It goes without saying that he was extremely blessed to marry ME!  Hey, I was quite a catch)!

Nyle was absolutely the best gift giver ever.  He gave wonderful, thoughtful gifts.  One of our last Christmases before he passed away, he gave me several sets of fleece sheets.  I did not even know they existed.  Flannel sheets yes...fleece sheets, NO!  Those sheets were magical.  In the icy cold winters of Utah, it was like climbing into a hug!  I still treasure those sheets, more so now that he is not here to give me a hug.

He taught me the importance of giving gifts of caring.  It was terribly hard for me to find the perfect gift for him.  It was ironic, actually that he gave such thoughtful gifts, and I struggled to figure out what he would enjoy.  To make things worse, we rarely had much money to spend, and he always had excellent, expensive taste.  (That is not to say that I had poor, cheap taste...not then or now.  I mean, come on, I married him proving my excellence in taste)!  There was the telescope that he just desperately wanted...that I spent three years paying for!  Or the time I put a bunch of nice pens as one of his stocking stuffers, and then he teased me about it for years, "Pens, really?  That was the best you could come up with?"  He never let me forget those pens...ok that's an exaggeration.  He let me forget after 25 years or so! 

Nyle DID appreciate the gifts that I really spent time on.  For example, I knitted him a six foot long, four foot wide Colonial American flag.  He loved that gift.  On the other hand, he felt odd using a flag to nap under.  Flying proudly in the hot summer sun one year, I discovered that he had hung it from our patio.  Nobody could miss that mark to our patriotism.  I did wonder if they were confused by the fact that it only had thirteen stars on it.  Again, I had knit a COLONIAL flag...not the current flag with fifty stars.

The best gift that Nyle gave me, is our two darling daughters.  Their presence in my life keeps him alive.  He was an amazing Daddy.  His wicked sense of humor continues in our daughters.  I am a rather intense individual, and can be VERY emotional.  They have learned to simply say, "Don't go deep Mom, don't go deep."  That is in reference to my intensity of emotion.  He used to keep me from taking myself too seriously.  Now they do. 

These dear daughters insist on helping me with my disability issues.  Nyle taught them that sense of love and honor by his example with his own Mother.  His Mama was brilliant.  She raised five sons, largely by herself.  Her husband became an alcoholic during their married life.  She tried to hold together their marriage, their family, for years.  Finally divorce was the only possible option.  Mom had not worked in around 25 years outside of their home.

She was able to gain an entry level job as a secretary/receptionist.  The pay was negligible...around $380.00 a month.  That was not much even in the 1970's.  Within two years she had worked her way into the position of Detective, Consumer Fraud in her state.  She was the FIRST female detective in her field in the state.  She received many awards, and lots of accolades for her ability to look like a sweet, naive Grandma.  The business owners were always shocked when she would come back and shut them DOWN. 

Tragically the last five years of Mom's life she developed dementia.  It was painful to watch this brilliant, wickedly witty, loving woman, lose herself.  Nyle and Mom were the best of friends.  He traveled once or twice a month across several states to take her to the doctor, and to the hairdresser.  After years of discovering dishonest, or downright evil businesses, and then shutting them down, in her delusions she would not trust anyone unless Nyle was there.  Sometimes she didn't trust people, even then.

She called many times and poured out terrible accusations directed at Nyle.  It broke his heart.  Yet, in spite of the false ideations she sometimes had about him, he still gave as much, and as loving, of care as he could possibly provide.  I know that his example of love, honor, and duty towards his Mother made a firm impression on our girls. 

You might ask, "How did these ideas about your adult girls, and Nyle and his Mom have anything to do with your first Christmas together?"  My answer is, "Very little.  Hey, how much sleep have you been able to get this holiday week?  Me too."  So forgive my tangent.  It may be off topic, but interesting don't you think?  Back to the subject.

Nyle made me promise that I would never send out a basic, newsy, Christmas letter.  He always wrote very funny ones.  He wanted me to continue the tradition.  He actually made me vow (although I did NOT put my hand on any book, Bible or otherwise), I do NOT have his sense of humor.  To give you an example of my sense of humor.  Remember when you're sitting in a darkened movie theater watching a movie and some odd lady laughs really hard when everyone else is completely silent?  Yes, sirree, that's me!  Since I can't write zany letters, I will probably not write Christmas letters.  However, when you get my New Year's letters, who knows what format they will take?

I wish to you all Happy Holidays, whether you rejoice with Channukah, celebrate Kwanza, sing Merry Christmas or find some other holiday to make you joyful.  When you're with those you love, EVERYDAY is a celebration!